MELBOURNE, Australia — Six months after winning the junior championship at Wimbledon, 16-year-old Belinda Bencic took the court Monday at the Australian Open against a woman old enough to be her mother.
Actually, 43-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm is five years older than Bencic’s mother, Dana.
The 27-year age difference between the two players was the largest in a Grand Slam match in nearly 10 years. Bencic, a Swiss qualifier, was in her first Grand Slam main draw match; Date-Krumm was in her 107th.
“I was a little bit nervous in the beginning, but then I just tried to keep the ball in the court,” said Bencic, who admitted the atmosphere of a Grand Slam match was different from any other in her career. “Yeah, I don’t know. It was special.”
Bencic, ranked 187th, quickly went down by 0-3 but steadied herself, rallying to win the first set, 6-4. Date-Krumm took the second set, 6-4, but faded in the third, when Bencic jumped to a 5-1 lead before eventually winning, 6-3.
Date-Krumm, ranked 80th, said that while her opponent’s face and body looked like those of a 16-year-old, her tennis betrayed no such youth.
“When I’m fighting with her, she’s not a high school girl,” Date-Krumm said with a laugh.
Bencic is coached by her father, Ivan, and Melanie Molitor, the mother of the five-time Grand Slam champion Martina Hingis. Hingis, who is coaching the Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki in this tournament, was in the stands watching Bencic’s match.
It is not just those with direct connections to Bencic who have taken an interest in her game. Her matches during qualifying were often attended by stars of past and present, including the former Australian Open champion Amélie Mauresmo, who wanted to catch a glimpse.
Bencic admittedly was not her sharpest even in victory.
“It means a lot, because I didn’t play really at my best, but I was able to fight through,” Bencic said. “It was the only thing I could do in that moment.”
In the next round, Bencic faces another veteran, albeit a considerably younger one: 31-year-old Li Na, the No. 4 seed. Li on Monday defeated another 16-year-old qualifier, Ana Konjuh of Croatia, 6-2, 6-0.
Bencic said, “It will be tough but will be a nice experience for me, hopefully on a big court.”
Rod Laver Arena, the tournament’s biggest, seems a likely choice for Bencic’s next match, perhaps the first of many on big courts in the coming years.
The future is somewhat less certain for Date-Krumm, who, while proud of her accomplishments, acknowledged she did not know how much longer she can remain in the sport.
“Many years I come back here for main draw, and already it’s a miracle,“ she said. “I’m still enjoying to play, and I still enjoy to play in Grand Slams, also. So I keep fighting. I don’t know how many years, how many months. Maybe five years more? Maybe five months? I don’t know. Depends on my feeling. One day, someday, it’s coming to the finish.”
She added: “Maybe tomorrow, maybe tonight or maybe five years later. I don’t know. It’s just to listen to myself all the time, and still I have the chance to play some more tournaments.”
Though she maintains her goals on the court, Date-Krumm also has a clear agenda, once retirement comes, and it involves her husband, the German racecar driver Michael Krumm.
“Just relax,” she said. “Get back to normal life. Maybe I spend time together with my husband, because for many years we don’t see each other. Just get a normal life. I need it.”